Courts nationwide oblige police to probe into transfers of parishes to OCU

Ukrainian courts oblige law enforcement officers to begin investigating the facts of illegal seizure of the UOC churches

During February-March 2019, in several regions of Ukraine, the courts obliged to begin investigative actions in light of illegal transfers of the UOC temples to the OCU.

Courts in Volyn, Chernovtsy, Rovno, Khmelnitsky and Kiev regions considered appeals of the UOC religious communities on refusing to list in the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations statements about the seizure of churches and other illegal actions of officials and representatives of the OCU associated with the so-called "transfers" of the UOC parishes. By their decisions, the courts obliged prosecutors and other authorized persons to list applications in the Register and begin an investigation, according to the UOC Information and Education Department.

For example, in Volyn Eparchy, law enforcement officers reported on the commission of criminal offenses under Art. 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Violation of equality of citizens depending on their race, nationality, religious belief, disability, and other grounds), Art. 178 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Damage to religious buildings or cultural buildings), Art. 179 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Illegal retention, desecration or destruction of religious shrines), Art. 180 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Obstructing the conduct of a religious ceremony), Art. 295 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Calls to commit actions that threaten public order), Art. 296 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Hooliganism), Art. 341 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Illegal seizure of state or public buildings or structures), Art. 356 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Arbitrariness), Art. 364 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Abuse of power or official position), Art. 365 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Excess of power or official authority by an employee of a law enforcement agency).

The Lutsk court in the Volyn region within two months made rulings in relation to 12 religious communities of Volyn Eparchy of the UOC in the villages of Sadov, Shepel, Vesioloye, Mankov, Kholopichi, Sirnychki, Semerinskoye, Zubilnoye, Kulchin, Zhidychin, Krasnovolia, Telchi.

In particular, on February 8, the court made a decision to oblige the authorized employees to list in the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations the data on the seizure of the church in honor of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God of Sadov village, Lutsk district. Archpriest Vladimir Meles’, rector of the parish, affected by the raider actions of the representatives of the OCU, said that the UOC community, which has remained almost in full strength, is now forced to hold services in a private house, since supporters of the OCU have declared the church their own, showing the minutes of the assembly they allegedly held on December 16, 2018 year of assembly. In fact, according to the priest, no meeting was held.

On March 7, the court committed the persons authorized to place data into the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations to accept the statement of Archpriest Nikolai Illiuk, rector of the Holy Dormition temple of the UOC of Shepel village, Lutsk district. On February 10, 2019, the parish was transferred to the OCU by the decision of the meeting of the territorial community. The media reported that the community had transferred to the OCU in full compositon, but some of the parishioners remained with their rector-priest, who was hospitalized after the "meeting".

On March 15, the Lutsk city district court satisfied the second complaint of the archpriest regarding the seizure of the Holy Dormition temple of the UOC of Vesioloye village, in which he also serves as a rector. The seizure of this temple took place on March 6, after representatives of the OCU had an illegal meeting of unidentified persons, having resorted to falsification of signatures. Both communities of the UOC in the villages of Shepel and Vesioloye, headed by priest Nikolai Illiuk, are preserved but having no access to their churches they pray in temporarily adapted residential premises.

On March 21, by virtue of the judicial decision, the prosecutor of Volyn region or another authorized official must accept an application of the senior priest of the Holy Protection church in the village of Mankov and the St. Nicholas church in the village of Kholopichi and register it in the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations. On February 22, the clergyman said that the hardcore of the new church structure of the OCU was carrying out a raider seizure of church buildings. The complaint was ignored and on February 25 the priest went to court.

At the beginning of February, relying on the decision of the territorial communities, the OCU declared to take possession of the Holy Lucian temple in the village of Sirnychki and the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos temple of Semerinskoye village of Lokachin district. Their rector, Archpriest Vasily Demyanovsky, refused to give the keys to the churches to the raiders, on which they subsequently hanged their locks. On February 18, the Lutsk city district court considered the complaint of the clergyman and ordered the law enforcement officers to list the necessary data in the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations and begin the investigation.

On February 8, the court ordered authorized persons of the prosecutor's office to enter the data into the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations and to begin investigation in connection with the actions of the OCU supporters around the church of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Zubilnoye village, Lokachin district. After the illegal meeting of the territorial community, the church was declared to be owned by this community; on February 15, the locks were changed, and on February 17, the rector and parishioners were forced to take their belongings from the premises.

On February 22, the court ruled on the situation in the village of Kulchin, Kivertsov deanery. Starting from February 15, the St. George’s community of the village has been gathering for worships in the church house where the rector lives. They’ve had no access to the temple since February 12: on this day, raiders from the UOC KP / OCU cut down the temple doors and seized the building. In March, it became known that the statutory documents of the UOC community in the village of Kulchin had been re-registered in favor of the newly-formed structure of the OCU.

On February 9, the St. Nicholas religious community of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the village of Zhidychin confirmed its intention to remain under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Despite this, on February 17, supporters of the OCU organized a meeting of the territorial community of the village and voted for the “transition” of the church to the new church structure. On February 22, a raider seizure of the temple took place; several of the faithful were injured in the clashes. On the same day, February 22, the prosecutor of Volyn region or another official authorized to receive and register applications and communications were bound to list the information into the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations at the request of Roman Geleta and begin a pre-trial investigation.

On March 7, a judge of the Lutsk city district court ruled to enter into the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations a statement by the head of the UOC religious community in the village of Krasnovolia, where representatives of the OCU activists, with the consent of the police, officials of the Manevich District State Administration, the local authorities, headed by the Krasnovolia village chairman Fiodor Svitach, seized the St. Michael’s temple. The UOC community has been preserved, believers gather for worship in the attached residential area.

On the same day, March 7, the court ruled to list in the Unified Register of Pre-Trial Investigations a statement by the head of the UOC community in the village of Telchi. On January 27, an illegal meeting was held in the village to transfer the temple of the Three Saints of Telchi village of the Manevich district to the OCU. On February 1, 2019, a group of individuals – supporters of the OCU – together with the representatives of local self-government and with the consent of the RSA officials, cut locks from the doors of the UOC temple and seized it. Believers of the UOC community in Telchi still do not have access to the temple and gather for prayer in a private dwelling.

On February 27, the Rakov-Les village council of the Kamen-Kashirsky district of Volyn region adopted Decision No. 29/1 “On the Consideration of Applications of Religious Communities”, which decided “to grant the village chairman permission to seal the Holy Annunciation Church of the village of Rakov Les and the territory of the church, including subsidiary premises; create a commission consisting of the village head, the deputies of the village council, the elder of the Holy Annunciation temple of vlg. Rakov Les, V. Voichik, representatives of the OCU and the UOC of Rakov Les village. Until the issue is resolved, the keys to the Holy Annunciation temple should be handed over for storage to the village head Nischik.” The rector of the temple challenged this decision at the Volyn District Administrative Court. On March 19, the court issued a decision to accept the statement of claim for consideration and opening of administrative proceedings.

Also on March 7, a positive court decision was made on the case of the community of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos of Vladimir-Volyn Diocese of the UOC in Mizovo village, Staraya Vyzhevka district of Volyn region.

The UOC reminded that the three religious communities of the Chernovtsy-Bukovina Diocese of the UOC through the court forced the law enforcement agencies to fix and investigate the illegal actions of officials on the process of “transferring” their parishes to the OCU: this is a parish in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Karpachov village, Vizhnitsa district, in honor of The Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Boyanchuk village, Zastavna district, and in honor of the Assumption of the Most Holy Theotokos in Goroshovtsy village, Zastavna district. Having considered the applications of religious communities, the territorial courts by their decisions obliged law enforcement officers to list the information on citizens' applications into the Unified State Register of Pre-Trial Investigations and open criminal proceedings under Articles 180 (obstructing the conduct of a religious ceremony) and 364 (abuse of official position) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

On February 11, the Kostopol district court of Rovno region satisfied the requirements of the Holy Protection parish in the village of Malaya Liubasha and ordered the officials of the Kostopil branch of the National Police to enter the information on illegal interference in the affairs of the religious community in the Unified State Register of Pre-Trial Investigations. On January 27, a meeting of the UOC religious community took place in this village, at which the parishioners of the church re-affirmed their desire to remain in the bosom of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. On the same day, a meeting of villagers was held at the club to transfer the UOC religious community to the OCU, which was chaired by Mikhail Malyshevsky with the participation of Liudmila Pigal, secretary of the meeting, and Svetlana Kovalchuk, first deputy chairman of the Unified Territorial Community. Besides, it was decided at the meeting to change the statute of the UOC religious community.

On March 27, a local court ordered an authorized person of the National Police in Khmelnitsky region to enter into the Unified State Register of Pre-Trial Investigations the information about a criminal offense against the St. Michael's community of the UOC Galuzintsy village, Derazhnia district of Khmelnytsky region (in accordance with the requirements of Article 214 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine).

The Ivankov district court ordered the police to begin an investigation of the offense on the fact of discrimination against believers of the UOC church in honor of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos in Ivankov town on religious grounds. This was written on March 28, 2019 on the Facebook page by the managing partner of the Mogilnitsky and Partners law firm, Maxim Mogilnitsky. According to him, the police, on the basis of the court decision, should investigate crimes related to preparations for the seizure of the UOC temple, as well as obstructing the conduct of worship.

On April 9, a judge of the Borodianka district court of Kiev region considered and satisfied the complaint of Boris Kovalchuk, a priest who is the rector of the parish of Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessalonica in Pilipovichi village, on the inaction of the investigator. On March 24, in the village of Pilipovichi, Ruslan Khvaliboga, the deputy of the village council, who openly calls himself Greek Catholic, initiated a territorial meeting of villagers at which he declared that everyone present and he himself as an initiator of the meetingare members of the religious church community. An illegal assembly made a decision to “transfer” the UOC community to the OCU. The decision was made against the will of the real religious community, which on March 17 held a legal meeting in the church and declared its allegiance to the UOC.

“The decision of unauthorized persons to change their subordination instead of the religious community of the UOC is a violation of the law, therefore, it is quite obvious and legitimate that the court ordered the police to start investigating these crimes,” said Archpriest Alexander Bakhov, head of the Legal Department of the UOC. He is convinced that over time, other religious communities, whose temples have been seized by the OCU advocates, will be able to defend their rights.

“According to the Constitution of Ukraine, the Church is separated from the state. Therefore, any interference by officials in the affairs of the religious community is illegal,” the lawyer emphasized.

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